Ultrasonic IV at Mark Moore

Josh Azzarella Untitled #27 (Unknown Rebel) (2006), Video

Mark Moore Gallery has been organizing its annual Ultrasonic exhibitions for four years now, featuring emerging artists from the U.S. and elsewhere. This year’s installment, Ultrasonic IV: Fresh Perspectives, more subdued than its high-strung title suggests, seems to confront the present through the lens of the past, rephrasing visual legacies in a way that suggests nostalgia can be prescient.

It’s a fascinating trend: in a time when technology allows the production of slick, seamless images, artists return to the antiquated media of the past.

Josh Azzarella Untitled #46 (The Awful Grace of God) (2007), Video

Josh Azzarella‘s videos, collages of grainy found and reedited footage, turn profound political moments into silent lulls. In Untitled #46 (The Awful Grace of God), just over two minutes in length, Robert Kennedy stands before a crowd that appears loyal but listless. Kennedy doesn’t ever speak – or, at least, he doesn’t look like he does – and the soundless, blurred film makes a melancholic moment out of something that should have been empowering. Though of course, in retrospect, any footage of Bobbie Kennedy is melancholic.

Tim Barber‘s cinematic photographs, with their the-world-is-bigger-than-you-are presentiment, evoke 1960s Cinema Verite – they approximate in-the-moment truth except, once framed, truth becomes another form of fantasy. Barber’s subjects don’t acknowledge the camera. For the most part, their faces are obscured, directed away or literally distorted by a flash of light or suspended foliage. But in one image, Untitled (wrapped in plastic), a woman’s perfectly legible, pristinely made-up profile rests inside a plastic bag. Exaggerated yellows make the image look like it’s been imported from a past decade and the plastic wrapping suggest an attempt to keep a dead face picturesque. Does this attempted preservation act as a protest against immediacy? Or is it simply an inability to let go?

Tim Barber Untitled (pillow) (2008) Digital c-print

While Ultrasonic IV certainly deals with nostalgia’s heaviness, it also offers plenty of levity. Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz re-imagine the snow globe, taking sentimental keepsakes and making them sinister. As objects, the globes are kitschy as the real things; as narratives, they’re absurd and callous. Had the Coen brothers depicted Narnia, the result might have been similar: miniature figures climb through stony ruins, find themselves chained together in the midst of forests, nearly fall from cliffs, and use boulders to stomp one another into the snow. It’s winter wonderland gone terribly wrong.

Looking back, remixing and sampling are things art, like music, has gotten good at, and they’re things Ultrasonic IV does well. The urge to revisit what already exists makes sense; the world has so much information in it already (and so much misunderstood, overlooked information) that taking the remix approach seems economical.

Walter Martin & Paloma Munoz Traveler CCLVII (2009)

At the end of her novella The Dog of the Marriage, Amy Hempel wrote, “I see the viewfinder swing wide across the lawn, one of those panning shots you always find in movies, where the idea is to get everybody in the audience ready for what will presently be revealed” – Except that Hempel’s characters never really get past the panning shot, and neither does contemporary art. The lingering question seems to be whether we should keep anticipating the reveal, or accept that rear-views are the closest we can get to looking forward.